Stanley shoots Shorts – Reviews of Kubrick’s early films

 

Young Kubrick

One can scarce enter into a conversation about the greatest directors of all time without the name ‘Kubrick’ being mentioned. Indeed, his very name has become synonymous with an excellence derived from meticulous attention to detail and a willingness to push the boundaries of cinema. I’m going to stop right there however, as to continue to spout adjectives in the hope of describing a man I have never met seems like a fruitless pursuit. Besides, many other writers have gone before me and have produced exhaustively interesting material that I, as a lowly film fan and not a Kubrick historian, cannot hope to rival. Even now a copy of The Complete Kubrick by David Hughes sits on my desk, the front cover emblazoned with a photo of Stanley himself giving me what appears to be a ‘don’t even bother’ glare. Duly noted, Mr. Kubrick.

With that in mind it seems fitting to look past the man and to the motion pictures that he left as his enduring legacy. Kubrick’s filmography is one that spans almost half a century in time and while not being especially numerous it manages to encompass a vast range of genres and ideas. I have yet to see all of the films that he made, but what interests me is that each film I have seen has made an impact on me, be it great or small, and that is one of the factors that allows me to declare that whatever has been said about him, he truly was a great film-maker. In the following series of blog posts I am going to undertake a personal journey through the filmography of Stanley Kubrick, from beginning to end – my very own odyssey. I will be revisiting some films and encountering some for the very first time, focusing on what they mean to me as someone who harbours a passion for cinema.

So without further ado, let us begin.

Day of the Fight (1951)

Kubrick’s first directorial effort came when he was working as a photographer in New York for Look Magazine and like all the short films discussed here at the start of Kubrick’s career, it is a short documentary film. It follows the middleweight boxer, Walter Cartier through one day of his life as he prepares for an evening match-up against Bobby James.

It’s a fairly interesting documentary that seeks to show the human side behind the sanitized brutality viewed by the crowds at the boxing match, and to this end it succeeds. What sticks in my mind about this short film is the varied shots that Kubrick uses, particularly in the fight itself, to heighten the drama – the lasting image being a shot from the surface of the canvas looking up at the two boxers as they engage. Also worthy of note is the lighting in the dressing room which effectively uses shadow to create a sense of anticipation.

Flying Padre (1951)

The next subject that Kubrick documented seems on paper (for myself at least) a lot more interesting. In this short we follow Father Fred Stadtmuller, a Catholic Priest who uses his Piper Cub aircraft to take care of eleven churches dotted over a large area in New Mexico.

Despite this, I found Flying Padre to be much less dynamic than Day of the Fight which was closer to being a human interest piece and therefore closer to achieving even the smallest emotional connection with the audience. Overall it’s quite dull but positively riveting when compared to Kubrick’s next directorial job…

The Seafarers (1953)

In need of funds to complete his first feature film, Kubrick took a job directing what essentially boils down to an advert for the Seafarers International Union. Anything interesting about it? Well, it’s in colour, but beyond that it is as dull as dishwater and at 29 minutes long I can think of many other things that I’d rather watch. It’s harsh to criticise Kubrick here though seeing as this was just a means to an end, but there really is no point in watching this unless you’re a Kubrick completionist.

Finally, what impact do these films have on me?

Honestly, not a lot. They are documentary shorts after all, designed to be more informative than emotive or metaphorical, and trying to derive a message from them would be silly…especially since Stanley himself called at least one of them ‘silly’ too. They do however show the early signs of Kubrick’s emerging talent and I guess what I draw from them is that even the greats have to cut their teeth on small projects. There’s still hope for those of us with ideas.

Young Kubrick 2That’s the intro done with. Next time on my personal Kubrickian journey, I look at his feature film debut – Fear and Desire.

 

Cruising for a Bruising – Edge of Tomorrow (2014) Review

Edge of Tomorrow Poster

Tom Cruise is well known for playing heroes, the kind that are unphased by the desperate circumstances they find themselves in and who always walk away from explosions. It’s all just steely expressions and thrilling antics. I have enjoyed much of his acting in the past (“show me the money” anyone?) but recently it appears that he’s been doing the same action role over and over – Jack in Oblivion, Jack in Jack Reacher etc. It doesn’t help that his physical appearance remains the same from film to film, and I felt like I was watching Tom Cruise and not his character. Whomever he was meant to be was dwarfed by his enormous celebrity presence. All this left me jaded and when I saw his casting in Edge of Tomorrow, I didn’t hold out much hope for his acting talents to resurface. It is however, pleasantly enjoyable to be wrong on this one.

Edge of Tomorrow is based on the novel entitled All You Need Is Kill by Hiroshi Sakurazaka and the set-up is as follows. In the near future, the forces of humanity are in a desperate struggle to repel an alien invasion of Earth. Major William Cage (Cruise) is part of the military but works only in public affairs, being a self-confessed coward. He is summoned by General Brigham (Brendan Gleeson) and is stripped of his rank and placed in the front lines of the next big attack – which is likely to be humanity’s last. Through circumstances that I won’t spoil he ends up repeating the same day every time he is killed and with the help of Sergeant Rita Vrataski (Emily Blunt) must find a way out and a way to win the war. The elements of the story can feel quite familiar when viewed individually – the near future, alien invasion, mech battle-suits, and the time looping – but it is the combination of these that make Edge of Tomorrow into a fun slice of sci-fi action.

The concept of time looping is not new and many people have likened to Groundhog Day, which has given rise to many witty alternative titles e.g. Saving Private Groundhog or Groundhog D-Day. Wish I could take credit for those. Whilst the comparison is almost inevitable, I was pleased to see that there were no karmic elements, and the reasons for Cage being trapped in the loop are instead tied to the greater plot of the invasion. Despite this, predictability does threaten to rear its ugly head towards the climax of the plot but it manages to avoid straying into genre clichés.

Edge of Tomorrow Blunt Cruise

“I’ll be blunt, this won’t be anything like a pleasure cruise”.

In the overall grimness of the threat of human extinction, it’s impressive that the film-makers manage to include plenty of levity revolving around Cruise’s quivering yellow-belly, and I’m taking quite a few laugh-out-loud moments. It’s great to see a stalwart of action cinema bumble along like a fish-out-of-water and Cruise does this superbly. It’s not only these light touches to the character and his predicament that make Cruise’s performance quite possibly one of his best in a while. He brings a certain pathos to his hapless everyman, caught in a situation that couldn’t be more opposed to his instinctive self-preservation and you understand the struggles he goes through, be they with the battle itself or the growing relationships with the soldiers around him. Emily Blunt is also terrific, as is to be expected of one of the finest actresses currently working, and similar to Cruise as a coward it’s a joy to see her getting tough as a battle-scarred veteran.

There are a few more things that deserve a mention. Doug Liman’s direction is very assured and the way he handles the balance of action and drama is to be applauded, although I shouldn’t be too surprised at that, he did direct The Bourne Identity after all. It may not be to everyone’s tastes but I thought the design of the world was suitably sci-fi, in particular the mech-suits which are industrial and flat out awesome. Slightly at odds with the whole mechanized look is Rita’s weapon of choice – an unfeasibly large sword – but let’s just call that a nod to Japanese gaming and move on.

In a summer filled with sequels, it’s always exciting to see a film that amalgamates some ideas into a fresh viewing experience. You may have seen these elements before, but together with Cruise and Blunt leading the charge, they certainly have the edge over their cinematic opposition.